Faith of our fathers and mothers

Some time back, my kids asked me a series of questions, the answers to which were published in a book for them and their offspring. One of those questions was “How is your faith different from your parents’ faith?” Here’s my answer. As with all my personal reflections, I offer it here in hopes others might find something with which to relate.

My parents’ faith was simple, traditional and seemingly based on a literal reading of the Bible. They attended all activities at the church and had little social life otherwise. Sometimes this need to attend appeared to border on obsessive, though I’m sure they did get a lot from being there.

For 18 years, I bought into all this with little or no questioning. It worked for me. And then it didn’t.

In the journey that followed, I soon realized that music, poetry and other art forms affirmed for me that there is something beyond the physical world. I felt a connection with other people, a connection sometimes called “love.” There was something spiritual about that.

In the midst of all this, the musical “Hair” came along. In it, a character named Claude sang, “I believe in God, and I believe that God believes in Claude. . . .” I had never thought about that relationship in that way. The phrase played often in my head. I was struggling to understand the nature of that which we call “God,” but somehow — maybe because of the power of music and poetry through which the idea was presented to me — I couldn’t help thinking that “God” believed in me.

I spent years redefining virtually every Christian symbol and ritualistic phrase from my childhood. Eventually, not only could I affirm those symbols and say those phrases again, but also they took on deeper meaning. Or maybe, I could affirm and say because they took on deeper meaning.

It wasn’t about merely reading the Bible and mindlessly following it as a road map, never mind that the map was hundreds and thousands of years old. It was helpful to hear someone point out that the Bible is a book of Truth, not a book of facts.

It worked for my parents to view what they read in the Bible and heard at church fairly literally. If the Bible said it, there was no reason to question it, even if you don’t understand it. I think it’s all more complex than that. I want to understand. I don’t think trying to understand denigrates religion. Yet I’ve come to accept that it is not possible to understand everything, and I’ve learned to affirm and celebrate mystery.

I’ve also become able to accept that my parents’ faith was just as real for them as mine is for me.

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